We are excited to share the next installment of our 2020 Student Blog Series! The student blog series highlights original pieces authored by first-year law students at Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. Read on for Allyson Fifer’s contribution to the Student Blog Series.
Quiz time! Close your eyes and think of what you imagine when you hear the words “sex trafficking.” Did you picture a foreign girl bound by chains? Did you visualize an illegal underground industry? Did you see only impoverished victims?
Although these depictions of sex trafficking may occur in some cases, they are actually common misconceptions and generally not the case for the majority of sex trafficking victims. Human trafficking is the “recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.” Sex trafficking happens everywhere, all the time, and no group of persons are immune from becoming victims. When you thought of the word “sex trafficking,” did you think of a 19-year-old girl from Wisconsin?
I would like to introduce you to Michelle. She holds many of the answers to this “quiz.” Michelle wants you to know about what happened to her in her home town of Milwaukee, Wisconsin when she was 19-years-old. At age 19, all Michelle wanted was to feel loved, successful, and popular – common goals for many girls of that age.
After breaking up with her boyfriend at the time, Michelle went to a friend’s house. She left her friend’s house and began walking to a bus stop to get back to her own home. While she was walking, a very nice, friendly man drove up to Michelle and offered her a ride. She took his offer as to avoid having to wait for the bus. The man engaged her in conversation, he reassured her, laughed with her, and joked with her. She felt comfortable around him, and left the encounter with the impression that he was a “very nice guy.”
Shortly thereafter, he took her to meet a few other young women whom he referred to as “wife-in-laws.” The man promised to give Michelle love and affection in exchange for her loyalty. 19-year-old Michelle then moved in with him. The man told Michelle that she should start having sex for money. He introduced her to an entirely new life and assured her that if she had sex for money, she would have the world at her fingertips. He told her that the two of them were in this together, that it was them against the world, and that having sex for money was okay. Michelle agreed and made $200.00 her first time, which seemed like an incredibly large amount of money to her. However, Michelle was forced to hand over the entire $200.00 to the man. And just like that, Michelle had fallen victim to a life of commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking.
The man then took Michelle to Nevada, where she was trafficked by someone else. Her new trafficker subjected her to many violent beatings and continued selling Michelle for sex. Michelle feared for her life. At age 24, 5 years after entering the sex trade, Michelle fought her way out of a car and obtained help from a nearby security guard. Michelle is now a 31-year-old woman. She lives with her family in Milwaukee, earned her college degree, and sees a therapist who helps her address her PTSD and mental health needs.
Michelle’s story is devastating; many victims’ stories are equally as devastating with much more tragic endings. Michelle’s story is local to her community. Michelle’s story is much more common than many people realize. There are an estimated 199,000 incidents of human trafficking within the United States every year. It is estimated that Washington D.C. has the highest human trafficking rate in the United States of 11.66 victims per 100,00 people. Following D.C. are Nevada, Delaware, Nebraska, and California. However, because commercial sexual trade is underground and cases are underreported, it is difficult to obtain reliable statistics on the number of victims.
Sex trafficking is happening everywhere. Recognizing that victims are living in every country, every state, and every city is incredibly important to combatting commercial sexual exploitation. Spread the word. Talk about it. Education is the first step in ending storylines like Michelle’s from reoccurring. Let’s take this first step.
Allyson Fifer is a first-year student at the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. Allyson is from central New Jersey and attended The College of New Jersey. Allyson holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Business Marketing with a Minor in Law, Politics, and Philosophy. Upon graduation, Allyson hopes to make a difference in the lives of others as a criminal law attorney.